Lauri Fortino and The Peddler’s Bed: An Interview

lauri fortino authorAlthough it is not always true, more often than not if a parent likes to read, a child will often grow to be a reader, as well. In the case of children’s author Lauri Fortino, it was having a poet in the house that inspired her to be a writer!

Growing up, Lauri’s grandmother Harriet Whipple lived with her family. Harriet was a self-taught poet who was published in newspapers and magazines. As Lauri explains in our interview on the Reading Tub website, her grandmother was also a pretty good artist and “self published” author who wrote stories and bound them into books.

Lauri also loves to read! She works at a public library in Syracuse, NY, where she reads LOTS of picture books … so many that she had a hard time listing her favorites! She also reviews many of those books on her blog: Frog on a (B)log.  Lauri’s first book, The Peddler’s Bed, is about … well I’ll let Lauri tell you!

RT: When I explore The Peddler’s Bed I see other picture books, in theme, vocabulary choice, and illustration. For example, I can see Geppetto from Pinocchio in your little man. As you explore the book, what other children’s classics do you see?

Lauri: Oh, I’d love to hear more about what other children’s books The Peddler’s Bed evokes! In the illustrations, I see a similarity between the peddler and the hungry fox in William Steig’s The Amazing Bone. The colorful trees remind me a bit of the truffula trees in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

peddler and doctor seuss

Bong Redila, Ripple Grove Press

RT: There is such a timeless, classic feel to The Peddler’s Bed. I can definitely see William Steig, too. The story’s message of kindness is easily recognized, but the book ends with a subtlety that may be missed. Did you already know the ending before you wrote the book?

Lauri: Yes, I knew the ending before I even wrote the story. For most of my stories, I usually have the ending and the beginning worked out before I even begin writing. Filling in the middle is the most challenging for me.

RT: How many stories to you have on your storyboard?

Lauri: I have dozens of story ideas … more than 100 written in my idea notebook. I also have about 20 completed picture book manuscripts and several more in various stages of development.

RT: Between your stories and your blog, you must be writing all the time. Speaking of reviews … a few of the online reviews ( mentioned the “wordiness” of your story as something to be aware of in selecting The Peddler’s Bed for young audiences.

I personally didn’t see that and would have “missed it” had I not read reviews after the fact. What advice would you offer for adults who may have a reader who doesn’t sit still and (as a result) shy away from books with more text?

peddlers bed by lauri fortino

Bong Redila, Ripple Grove Press

Lauri: The average word count for a picture book these days is about 500 words. The Peddler’s Bed is between 700 and 800 words, which is on the higher end of the spectrum. The story moves along at a nice pace.

For children who struggle to sit nicely for a wordier book – or any book – I would say “don’t give up.” Share the book in different ways. Try making up your own story to go with the pictures, or just enjoy the pictures together. When the child’s a bit older or less squirmy and ready to sit for longer periods of time, introduce the text.

RT: With my own always-busy daughter, I just kept reading. She’d move about and listen, and when something caught her eye, she’d come over to sit with me to look at the pictures! I could definitely see her coming over to listen for those squeaks! Something else I would do is have books on CD.

Lauri: Yes, that is a great option! There are two Soundcloud versions of The Peddler’s Bed that were created as part of two programs offered by my public library. Each is about five minutes long, which gives you a good idea of how long it takes to read the book. What I especially love is that multiple readers tell the story, which gives the characters and narrator individual voices.

One is read by an actor’s table reading program for adults and the other is read by a children’s reader theater program. I like that they can add an additional way for readers to hear the story. The recordings were created from scripts from the book. Even though they don’t follow the book word-for-word, children can stil enjoy them in conjunction with the book by looking at the illustrations.

RT: I recently posted some ideas on how audiobooks can help young readers on Facebook, so thank you for letting us know about those Soundclouds! 

There is more to our interview with Lauri Fortino! Visit the Reading Tub to see

  • Learn about Lauri’s favorite books as a child.
  • Discover the authors and illustrators she loves now.
  • See more of Bong Redila’s images from The Peddler’s Bed.
  • Find out about Finley, the mascot for her blog.

Connect with Lauri Fortino

Frog on a (B)log:


Lauri Fortino’s Goodreads page:



A Blogger’s Must Have Tool for the 2016 Cybils

So last year, I kicked off Cybils blogging with some zombies. Not sure how to top the undead and stay apolitical, but I’ll do my blogger best and start with a question:

Do you know where your library card is?*

call for blogger judgesI hope so! It is a must-have for Cybils judges and any blogger who loves to read along when the nominations start rolling in beginning October 1.

Oh, you’ve never been a judge in the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards? Then this is your year! We are looking for bloggers with new voices. Just. Like. Yours.  If you contribute regularly to a blog, podcast, or vlog about any aspect of children’s or young adult literature, then consider yourself invited to apply. The very simple application is right here.

If you’ve been on a Cybils hiatus, have we got news for you! We have some shiny new categories … and what blogger among us doesn’t like shiny new things? Check out our two new trial categories:

  • Board Books – its own part of the Fiction Picture Books category, chaired by yours truly.

With the growth of youth nonfiction, the Cybils is now expanding the existing nonfiction categories into two awards each.

  • Elementary Nonfiction will select a picture book winner, as well as an easy reader winner, under the tutelage of Jennifer Wharton, librarian and blogger at Jean Little Library.
  • YA Nonfiction will select winners for both middle grade and YA. Jennie Rothschild, who blogs at Biblio File, will be at the helm.

You can read more about all of this exciting stuff on the Cybils blog [and keep up to date by signing up for the newsletter!]

So in closing, fellow blogger …

If you write about your love of children’s and young adult literature, have a passion for nonfiction or audiobooks (or middle grade fiction, or poetry, or picture books, or easy readers), or is one of the bloggers who encouraged us to consider board books, then come be part of something awesome.

You’ll be glad you did!

** September is almost here and its Library Card Sign-up Month, so if you don’t have a library card, well, you still have time to get one and test it out before nominations start on October 1.

Back to School – Back in the Groove

As y’all know, I stepped away from the blog this summer to focus on other stuff. Summer isn’t over, but it’s time to get back in that transition groove.

girl first day school It’s just so … good to be back! School itself is in my rear view mirror, but I still love everything that comes with the start of a new year … especially the discovery of new things. So it is very fortuitous (and a lot of fun) to share what I learned in my interview with Peter Trimarco and Brenda Faatz.

The husband and wife team have been writing for youth theatre productions for many years. They recently launched their debut picture book, It’s Just So… and introduced the adorable Lizzy to the world.

We have a two-part interview. In the Q&A below, I talk with Brenda and Peter about their new book and ways to read it with children. On the Reading Tub, Brenda and Peter explain how they weren’t readers as children, but what (or who!) ultimately helped them discover a love of books.

Please welcome Brenda and Peter to the Family Bookshelf.

picture book authorRT: Congratulations on the journey of becoming a children’s author and illustrator! It has been fun to live vicariously through the joy that bounces off my screen in your emails.

Peter: Thanks, Terry. We are having so much fun. As I think I mentioned, at a recent event at Barnes & Noble, we had everyone – including parents – dancing to the “Wallaroo Wiggle,” an original song Brenda created for the book.

RT: I can see why! Everything about It’s Just So… has a lyricism to it. You both have incredible careers in the performing arts. When you decided to write a children’s book did you find it easier or harder to create a “script” for a print audience?

Brenda: It’s been a blast expanding our writing from live performance scripts and song writing for print. The big differences we’ve found are that we need to be more concise than when writing scripts and more literal than when writing songs.

We’ve gone over every word, every sentence and every illustration more times than we can count because we feel every detail of this book is important to the whole.

RT: lizzy back to schoolIn fact, Lizzy first came to life in one of your plays. Can you tell us, Peter, a little bit about how Lizzy appeared in your illustrator eye?

Peter: We wrote a musical theatre production called Wee Noteables, and Lizzy is drawn from a character named “Pockets,” portrayed by Brenda. That character has a little Carol Burnett meets Harpo Marx in her DNA.

As we dove deeper into writing the book, I was trying to illustrate a character who was true to Brenda’s “Pockets” character, but also one that had a distinctive look, and a silhouette that you just know can only be Lizzy. As important, we wanted our main character to be accessible and appealing to both boys and girls.

RT: It’s interesting that you describe the story and character as part of a broader “concept.” Can you elaborate on that for our readers?

Brenda: We have journals full of thoughts, ideas and notes that preceded publishing It’s Just So… — and hopefully many future Lizzy books.

The original idea of It’s Just So… was to present situations children could relate to and where their perceptions would be challenged to consider new perspectives.

Our phrase “It’s just sooooooo……” is inspired by what we so often hear our children say, sometimes out of frustration ~ sometimes of glee.

RT: In It’s Just So… Lizzy is preparing for her first day at a new school. Although many reviews have focused on the back-to-school element [see: Children’s Book Review], it seems like there is “more to the story.” What other concepts would you like readers to take from the story?

Peter: It is actually a story about perspective and the feelings children and adults experience when facing any changes to their routine or living outside their perceived comfort zone. The back to school theme proved to be a great backdrop for opportunities to draw out emotions that every child can relate to.

Similar experiences could be moving, trying a new sport, or even connecting with a different group of friends. Things are not always what we expect and making assumptions can be so limiting.

What Lizzy helps us see is that once we embrace new challenges and stare down our fears, things might be just so “fantastical.”

RT: girls science characters‘Tis the season for back-to-school jitters, from first day of preschool to new school/new friends! How would you suggest that parents introduce Lizzy and It’s Just So… to their children?

Brenda: There are many different ways to introduce our book to a child. Much of that is dependent on the child’s developmental level. But not all of it. Parents have purchased our book for graduating seniors as a means of encouragement.

For our youngest readers (the kids who prefer listening to books), we recommend doing a “picture walk.” Look at each page, ask questions about what your child sees, and read mainly the more colorful words in larger fonts. Allow the kids to really devour all the delicious detail in the illustrations. They will glean everything they need using just these things.

For older children, the rhymes and made-up words will challenge their imagination and enrich their experience.

Regardless of their age, it is great to share the book together the first time you read It’s Just So… because there WILL be questions about some of those crazy words, and hopefully some giggles to share!

RT: Rhyme is just one way your story plays with words. The pages incorporate color, size, and even create new words to engage readers. What (or who) was the inspiration for some of the new words?

Peter: The idea of introducing “made-up” words came from our experience working with the kids at our children’s enrichment center. We made up a few of the words in the beginning. I believe the first one was Fizz-astro-fantastical on the science page. Then Brenda took an early draft of the book to a class of four- to five-year olds and read it aloud.

Initially, the younger ones “got” more of it with a picture walk while the older kids grabbed onto the lyricism of the rhyming story. When a few made-up words were dropped in, it quickly became a game of all the children parsing out the real adjectives from the made-up ones. Soon everyone was experimenting with creating adjectives and adverbs.

Needless to say, we went back to the manuscript and focused on making the fun vocabulary a solid thread throughout the book. Now we’re seeing the rewards of that work. Educators and librarians thank us because the book helps them with lessons about “describing words.”

RT: Does this mean that you envision original vocabulary being part of every story?

: But of course. These words are abso-linguistically essential-istic to ensure the funtastic-ness of all Lizzy books!


Read more about Lizzy’s first day of school, fun words, and

how Peter and Brenda became readers in our interview at the Reading Tub!



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